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Blast from the past

Lizzie told me about this paper, “Bidirectionality, Mediation, and Moderation of Metaphorical Effects: The Embodiment of Social Suspicion and Fishy Smells,” which reports:

As expected (see Figure 1), participants who were exposed to incidental fishy smells invested less money (M = $2.53, SD = $0.93) than those who were exposed to odorless water (M = $3.34, SD = $1.02), planned contrast i(42) = 2.07, p = .05, Cohen’s d = 0.83, or fart spray (M = $3.38, SD = $1.23), i(42) = 2.22, p = .03, d = 0.78.

Fart spray!

The paper faithfully follows Swann’s 18 rules for success in social priming research.

I was surprised to see that people were still doing this sort of thing . . . but then I looked at the paper more carefully. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2012. Just one year after they’d published that ESP paper. To criticize a psychology journal for publishing this sort of thing in 2012 would be like mocking someone for sporting a mullet in the 1980s.

Of course, just cos a paper is on a funny topic and just cos it follows the cargo-cult-science template, it doesn’t mean that it is wrong. I guess I’ll believe it when I see a preregistered replication, not before. In the meantime, just recall that experimental results can be statistically significant and look super-clean but still not replicate. The garden of forking paths is not just a slogan, it’s a real thing that can easily lead researchers to fool themselves; hence the need to be careful.

P.S. All that said, it’s still not as bad as “Low glucose relates to greater aggression in married couples”: that’s the study where they had people blasting their spouses with loud noises and sticking pins into voodoo dolls.

These issues also arise with published research on more important topics.


  1. jim says:

    “Forty-five students (mean age 20.1 years, 22 women) at the University of Michigan participated in a one-shot trust game…each received 20 quarters ($5) and an investment form with instructions. “

    oops. call retraction watch.

  2. Nick Adams says:

    So, Andrew…did you have a mullet?

  3. jrkrideau says:

    There was something fishy about that mullet remark.

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